Clean And Green Series

Green Beauty Guide

It would make sense, I suppose, to start from the top with hair care products, but instead I’ve decided to start with your skin (not including the face just yet, that’s a whole other thing). Your skin is your largest organ, and what we put on it has a lasting impact on your body chemistry and the buildup of toxins in your blood and tissues. But before I go too much further, I want to preface with a few founding principles. 1. The studies on the effects of chemicals and toxic ingredients in skin care vary greatly. It seems for every study that says something is fine, another will say that it is toxic—it’s a confusing landscape. Science operates under a system of absolute proof, which is necessary, but the downside being that if something is suspected as toxic, with good reason, it can still be declared safe—innocent until proven guilty. This is good enough for some, but in my mind, why expose our bodies to unnecessary, even if just potential, harm? 2. Not everything absorbs into the skin. More on this later. 3. An argument often used when talking about risky ingredients in skin care is that at low levels, it’s not toxic. True enough, except… I’m not sure we truly understand how well our bodies are able to excrete chemicals (and I know of a few that our bodies can never excrete). It depends on each individual, what they eat, where they live, how healthy they are… you get the picture. When you consider a lifetime of exposure, I think it’s fair to say this is an area that we should, at the very least, proceed with caution—Gillian Deacon calls this chemical body burden.

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Now for a bit of science which harkens back to my days studying physiology at university (see, I knew it would one day be useful!). Our skin is comprised of layers: three major ones with several sub-layers. Each layer has a super specific purpose, but the overall function of the skin is to protect your inner soft tissues and prevent loss of moisture. But skin is not impermeable… it’s actually a semi-permeable membrane, which means that under the correct conditions certain molecules can be absorbed. Typically, small, fat-soluble (dissolved in fat, not water) molecules are readily absorbed, whereas large, water-soluble molecules are not. I personally am not sure which chemicals are which, and outside of a chem lab I’m not sure you’ll ever know, but understanding how skin absorbs things is useful information to know in order to make your own informed decision about products you are willing to use on skin. It’s also worth noting that although some chemicals are too large to pass through the skin to reach the blood or lymph streams, they can still be absorbed by glands in the skin, build up, and then excrete into the body when the concentration inside the gland becomes elevated. So while this process is slow it still occurs—this is the main concern with aluminum in antiperspirants.

Now, let’s think about the function of skin care products: to nourish the outer layers of skin so that we appear on the outside to have nicer skin. This is usually accomplished with water, which plumps up the outer layer of skin cells so that they literally swell up and look smoother, and a host of other ingredients designed to nourish or improve the appearance/regeneration of skin—it’s a temporary fix, and it breeds dependence. Unfortunately, as it turns out, many synthetic ingredients have a habit of not staying put and find themselves in our blood where they can potentially cause harm over time. Also, other ingredients used purely to increase shelf life or scent moisturizers are often where the most harmful chemicals are found… something to think about.

It also should be mentioned that whether an ingredient can be absorbed into the skin or not, there is an added cost and consideration: When we wash in the shower, the creams and lotions are carried down the drain where they break down into tiny particles that are difficult to remove by water processing plants. Thus, they end up in our bodies anyway via our drinking water and they end up in fish and aquatic life / ecosystems, which are known to be sensitive. The effects on aquatic ecosystems have been studied and the results, my friends, are not pretty.

 

WHAT TO AVOID

There are hundreds if not thousands of ingredients in skin care and it would be impractical to discuss them all. Thankfully, studies have been done on some of the most common ingredients and we now have a group of worst offenders to avoid. I’ve read several books on the topic and reference David Suzuki’s “Dirty Dozen” list often, but my favorite list is from Gillian Deacon’s book There’s Lead in Your Lipstick (2011, Penguin, Canada). According to her research, here is a list of products to avoid (abbreviated from her book by Treehugger):

Note: not all of these chemicals are specific to moisturizers or skin care, but I wanted to include them all for future reference.

 

  • Coal Tar: A known carcinogen banned in the EU, but still used in North America. Used in dry skin treatments, anti-lice, and anti-dandruff shampoos, also listed as a color plus number, i.e. FD&C Red No. 6.
  • DEA/TEA/MEA: Suspected carcinogens used as emulsifiers and foaming agents for shampoos, body washes, soaps.
  • Ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane: Never listed because it’s a by-product made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1,4-dioxane in 57 percent of baby washes in the U.S. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters “eth.”
  • Formaldehyde: Probable carcinogen and irritant found in nail products, hair dye, fake eyelash adhesives, shampoos. Banned in the EU.
  • Fragrance/Parfum: A catchall for hidden chemicals, such as phthalates. A Fragrance is connected to headaches, dizziness, asthma, and allergies.
  • Hydroquinone: Used for lightening skin. Banned in the UK, rated most toxic on the EWG’s Skin Deep database, and linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.
  • Lead: Known carcinogen found in lipstick and hair dye, but never listed because it’s a contaminant, not an ingredient.
  • Mercury: Known allergen that impairs brain development. Found in mascara and some eyedrops.
  • Mineral oil: By-product of petroleum that’s used in baby oil, moisturizers, styling gels. It creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins.
  • Oxybenzone: Active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that accumulates in fatty tissues and is linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage, low birth weight.
  • Parabens: Used as preservatives, found in many products. Linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity.
  • Paraphenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair products and dyes, but toxic to skin and immune system.
  • Phthalates: Plasticizers banned in the EU and California in children’s toys, but present in many fragrances, perfumes, deodorants, lotions. Linked to endocrine disruption, liver/kidney/lung damage, cancer.
  • Placental extract: Used in some skin and hair products, but linked to endocrine disruption.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): Penetration enhancer used in many products, it’s often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens.
  • Silicone derived emollients: Used to make a product feel soft, these don’t biodegrade, and also prevent skin from breathing. Linked to tumor growth and skin irritation.
  • Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES): A former industrial degreaser now used to make soap foamy, it’s absorbed into the body and irritates skin.
  • Talc: Similar to asbestos in composition, it’s found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush, deodorant. Linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
  • Toluene: Known to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems, and fetal development, it’s used in nail and hair products. Often hidden under fragrance.
  • Triclosan: Found in antibacterial products, hand sanitizers, and deodorants, it is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.

SO, WHAT TO DO?

I am not proposing you forgo putting anything on your skin… due to lots of external environmental factors, we often need to give our skin a moisturizing boost. It’s known that our skin most easily accepts and makes use of plant-based oils that resemble its own natural oils.  Here is a rundown of the Pure Green moisturizing body skin care routine… it’s tested, proven, and works wonders, chem-free.

  1. Drink lots of water and hydrate from the inside out.
  2. Exfoliate: this removes the outer layers of dead skin and reveals softer smoother skin underneath. Exfoliation should always be a gentle process, however. Our favorite method is to introduce body-brushing to your routine just before you shower.
  3. Heat helps to improve the absorption of oils into the skin, so moisturizing right after showering or bathing, or before bed (our body temp elevates at night) is a good time to do so. If using plant oils, heating the jar gently in some hot water also helps (and thins the oils slightly as well as helping them to glide on).

WHAT PLANT OILS TO USE: the three most popular are pure coconut, sweet almond, and sesame. Ayurvedic practices believe that one is better than the other according to your specific dosha, and suggest applying them in a certain way to benefit the body further… it’s called Abhyanga.

If you would rather use a commercially formulated product, that’s fine too, just make sure you check the ingredients against the list above (there’s a handy guide you can download here). Basically, though, the ingredient list should read pretty straightforward—plant and flower based ingredients are typically listed after the latin name in English and you should be able to recognize each of them.

MORE RESOURCES:

EWG’s Skin Deep: I LOVE this resource. It allows you to search individual products and check their ingredients for toxins. It’s a great way to see what’s currently in your bathroom cabinet or a product you’re unsure about purchasing.

HOW TO MAKE A FLOWER ESSENCE

While there are a number of variations on the theme, below you’ll find a simplified two-part method for creating your own flower essence. While you might choose to add other aspects to your flower essence creation process (such as prayer, chanting, placing the bowl on the ground instead of on a table, or surrounding the dish with crystals), for safety reasons, please be sure to hit all the main points in the following directions.

PART 1: THE MOTHER ESSENCE

  1. Obtain the following tools: a medium or average-sized plain glass bowl, a large or average-sized glass jar with lid, and a small (1 ounce) glass bottle with a dropper lid. Sterilize each object by placing in cold water, gradually bringing it to a boil, and boiling for at least twenty minutes. Then dry each tool with a clean cloth.
  2. Fill the glass jar with spring water. Also, gather a bottle of brandy, a small stool or table, a large organic nontoxic leaf or bed of leaves such as lettuce or chard placed on a plate, and some garden shears.
  3. In the morning or midday, on a sunny day without a cloud in the sky, take all ingredients to a serene natural or botanical setting where the flower of your choice is growing. Place the bowl on the stool or table in a place where no shadows will fall on the bowl for 3-4 hours. Fill the bowl with the water, being careful not to allow any part of your shadow to cross over it.
  4. Shears and plate(with leaf or leaves) in hand, locate the flower you would like to make an essence from. Sit or stand comfortably near the plant as your relax and take some deep breaths. Come fully into the moment.
  5. When you feel centered, silently tune into the flower and request that she assist you with you essence creation. Honor her, respect, her, and simply be with her for a moment.
  6. As you feel intuitively guided, snip between 3-6 blossoms, allowing them to fall onto the leaf.
  7. Lovingly take the flowers to the bowl of water and, without touching them, spill them in so that they float on the surface. Place the leaf or leaves near the base of a tree.
  8. Allow the flowers to merge with the energy of the water by leaving them undisturbed for 3-4 hours.
  9. Fill the dropper bottle with brandy. With the dropper cap, add two drops of the water from the flower bowl. Snugly replace the cap.
  10. Pour the remaining water from the bowl, along with the blossoms, near the base of the flowers.

You now have what is known as “the mother essence.” This is not the essence and should not be consumed or magically employed. Rather, it is the concentrated stock for creating the flower essence, which brings us to part 2.

PART 2: THE FLOWER ESSENCE

This portion of the process may be repeated with the same mother essence until the mother essence bottle is empty, provided you use the mother essence within two years after it is created (after that, the mother essence may begin to lose its potency). You may do this anywhere that feels right: in your kitchen, near your altar, or out in nature.

  1. Sterilize an additional small bottle and dropper (as above).
  2. Fill the bottle halfway with brandy and the rest of the way with spring water.
  3. Add two drops of the mother essence.
  4. Replace the cap.

AGATE ELIXIR

Agate is the name given to numerous varieties of banded Chalcedony, a mineral of the Quartz family. Its name comes from the Achates River in Sicily, where Agates were first found. Usually banded in layers, or stripes, some varieties have “eye” markings or specks of color, some have fossilized inclusions, and others are solid. Called the earth rainbow, the concentric bands of Agate form in nearly every color the earth can produce, including a colorless form.

Historically, Agate has been discovered with the artifacts of Neolithic people and was used as healing amulets and ornamentation dating back to Babylon. Its medicinal uses continued through the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations and spread throughout Africa and the Middle East into Russia. Agate sparked a world renowned stone cutting and polishing industry in Germany that flourished from the 15th to the 19th century and exists today.

An Agate elixir can be prepared easily.  The stones are not toxic so you can use the direct method. Take five or six small Agate tumbled stones (any agate of your choice).  Clean them well, just like your dishes. Add them to about 1/2 cup of spring water.  Cover.  Place the container of the stones and water under sunlight or moonlight for several hours.  After about 3 hours, remove the stones. Cover the container of water and place it in the refrigerator. Once cooled, the elixir will be ready for use.  When you wish to use it, add 6-10 drops of the elixir to any beverage. Use it 3-5 times per day.  If kept in the refrigerator and covered, it will be good for several weeks.

 

MOSS AGATE PEONY CLEANSING SMOOTHIE

Moss Agate is a cleansing crystal, useful for clearing personal energy systems. Its green color ray of renewal provides rejuvenating and recharging qualities.  Moss Agate stimulates the digestive system, relieves gastritis, and aids in the elimination of toxins from the body.

Energetically, peony is an excellent cleanser, bringing freshness and healing to the emotions and the physical body by removing blocks, old patterns, and challenging attachments. For this purpose, it is extremely beneficial to add a few drops peony essence to this drink.

Ingredients

  • ½ pear
  • ¼ avocado
  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ lemon
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 1 cup kale (packed)
  • ½ inch ginger
  • ½-1 cup moss agate water
  • A few drops peony flower essence (optional)
  • 1 scoop protein powder (hemp, pumpkin or pea works great!)

Blend until smooth. Taste the smoothie. If it’s too thick, add more water and blend again, until it reaches the desired texture.

Tinted Lip Balm {DIY}

THIS PROJECT IS SIMPLE—so very delightfully, splendidly, simple. In the beginning stages of my personal transition to living a more sustainable, healthy life, skin care and cosmetics were among the first of my products to change. What you place on your body absorbs through your skin within 30 seconds, and personally, the thought of my bloodstream accumulating the hundreds of chemicals we use on our body was downright scary (keep watch for a post on greening your cosmetics in the near future). As of late, I have been taking things a step further and focusing my efforts on living zero-waste, which means trying to reduce the packaging I bring into my home, even if it is recyclable. I’ve also been exploring how to live sustainably on an even more stringent budget than ever before, and all things point to making things myself (turns out it’s almost always simpler and easier than I thought).

This particular recipe is one I’ve been making for years. It goes on smooth and coats your lips without getting too thick or waxy. The mineral pigment I use is actually my mineral blush, produced by a company I know well and trust completely. In fact, just in case, this is something you would like to make for yourself. You can, of course, leave out the pigment completely, but I truly love it as it elevates the look of plain lip balm ever so slightly, giving your lips a lightly berry-stained look that’s perfect for fall. Feel free to play with the quantity of pigment, what I’ve used here is just enough for a sheer hint of color.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 tsp. organic olive oil
  • 1 tsp. shaved pure beeswax
  • 1/4 tsp. natural mineral pigment
  • vitamin E

Method

If you have a solid block of beeswax (as I did), either use a box grater or a knife to carefully shave off flakes of wax.

In a very small pan or heat-proof dish over low heat, gently heat the oil, being careful not to overheat and destroy some of the healing properties of the oil. Add in the wax. Once it has melted, stir in the mineral pigment and a drop of Vitamin E (as a preservative).

Pour the mixture immediately into two 1/4 oz. tins and place in the fridge to solidify (only takes a few minutes). Use at will!

TIP: clean the vessel you used to make the balm immediately, while still warm. Use a paper towel, tissue or soft rag to wipe it clean, then clean with soap and water. DO NOT wait until the mixture has cooled, you will have a real mess!

Calendula Belly Balm

CALENDULA HAS A VERY LONG HISTORY AS A HEALING HERB—it’s a staple in herbal gardens, not just for its usefulness but also for its sunny disposition. Easy to grow and self-sowing, it also helps repel garden pests, making it a beautiful plant for novice and expert gardeners alike. As a healing herb, use is varied and plentiful, but it is perhaps best known for its skin healing and soothing properties which are why you will often see it incorporated in healing salves and balms.

This particular DIY is inspired by Ashley’s ever-growing third-trimester belly. Despite the magic of the experience, the sensation within that is akin to nothing else, the reality is that housing a growing baby comes with, shall we say, some discomfort. While it’s all too easy to focus on that discomfort, it has been my approach to everything I can to naturally and holistically soothe those symptoms, framing them in my mind in such a way that simply the daily practice of soothing them morphs the discomfort into a form of self-care. It’s as though our bodies remind us to slow down and take care.

As the skin across pregnant bellies stretches tighter and tighter, the accompanying itch and skin irritation is hard to ignore. Always a fan of making things myself from scratch and enjoying the benefits of organic, simple ingredients, I set out to perfect a belly balm that does it’s best to soothe (and hopefully prevent stretch marks—calendula is also known for helping scars and stretch marks to heal and fade). The result is a soft balm that I rely on morning and night to help ease the insatiable itch and (so far) keeps stretch marks away, allowing me to focus more fully on the pleasant side of pregnancy like those gentle kicks and nudges! Simply warm by rubbing between your hands and massage onto your belly (and breasts)—take a moment here to marvel at how your body has changed, it truly is a miracle (if even a sometimes uncomfortable one—most transformational life experiences are in some way or another!).

Not pregnant? Make this balm anyway to soothe dry, chapped skin, other minor skin irritations, or as a gardener’s hand balm. It also makes a lovely, thoughtful gift!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup organic shea butter
  • 1.5-2 Tbs grated beeswax
  • 1/8 cup organic, raw coconut oil
  • 1/8 cup calendula infused organic olive oil*
  • 1 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

METHOD

In a heat-poof glass spouted measuring cup, combine the shea butter, beeswax, olive and coconut oil, and calendula infused oil.

Fill a small saucepan with warm water and place the glass jar in the water, ensuring that the water level stays below the lip of the jar (a 3/4 immersion is good—you don’t want water getting into your balm as it can spoil the batch or cause separation issues).

Heat on the stove on medium heat ensuring the water stays at or below a gentle simmer. (You don’t want to overheat the oils as this can alter the molecular structure of the oils.) Stirring occasionally with a spoon or popsicle stick, continue heating the oils until they are completely melted. Remove from heat and remove measuring cup from water (you may need tongs or a towel to do this, be careful not to burn yourself!). Stir in the vitamin E and lavender essential oil. Pour into a 4 oz jar and allow to set either at room temperature on in the fridge for a faster set.

After testing the texture, you can either soften or harden the mix by reheating the balm and adding either more beeswax or more oil. This recipe can be multiplied or divided to yield smaller or larger batches depending on your needs and intended use.

To clean up: while the balm is still melted, wipe out all utensils and tools used with a paper towel, after which everything can be easily washed. Skipping this step or allowing the balm to harden results in a very difficult to clean the mess!

*To infuse calendula oil: the slow way is to fill a small, 4 oz jar loosely with calendula petals and fill with oil until completely covered. Place on a sunny sill and shake jar daily for 4-6 weeks. The fast way is to again fill the jar with petals and oil, and then place in a slow-cooker immersed in water for 12-24 hours. When infusion is complete, strain the petals out of the oil, squeezing to get all the good stuff and compost. Your oil is now finished!

A NOTE ABOUT LAVENDER—Inclusion of lavender in this recipe is optional but the purpose is more than because it simply smells nice (although I don’t particularly care for the smell of pure shea butter). According to Nadine Artemis, a true visionary, and expert in her field, lavender is extremely effective at calming anxiety, enhancing relaxation and promoting an increased sense of well-being, happiness, and peacefulness. Be intentional about applying this balm, rubbing your belly slowly to ensure absorption and taking a few moments to simply be with the baby. 

Beauty from Inside-Out with Super Fruit Extracts

There are many foods and nutrients that span the bridge between the cosmeceutical and Nutri cosmetic sectors. They can act as an ingredient that can be added to skin creams, shampoos, and other personal care items, and can also be used as a supplement that can be taken internally along with other health-enhancing nutrients that support skin and hair. 


One example of this kind of ingredient is a super fruit combination, which includes goji, acai, noni, pomegranate, green tea, mangosteen and green coffee bean. 


These super fruits have a long history of use by traditional people in the areas where they are found, as well as scientific data substantiating their high level of healthy antioxidants. Goji (wolfberry) has been treasured for centuries by the Himalayan people, the berries of the goji plant (Lycium barbarum) have been consumed daily by many of the world’s longest living people. 


Acai is a berry harvested from the Brazilian rain forest, where natives believe the acai berry to have amazing healing and nutritional properties. 


Studies show acai has up to 33 times the antioxidant content as red wine grapes. Noni grows in the Caribbean, Tahiti, and Hawaii, producing a strange white, soft fruit. It is harvested when it is ripe, and pulverized, then strained it to make a healthful drink, high in enzymes and other factors that support healthy skin and hair. 


Mangosteen is called “queen of the fruit” due to its delicious flavor and traditional medicinal use. It contains a wide range of antioxidants such as a polyhydroxy-xanthone derivative called mangosteen. 


Green coffee bean is the fresh, unroasted seed harvested from coffee plants. It’s high in beneficial antioxidants, which gives it one of the highest ORAC values found in nature. Green coffee beans are high in chlorogenic acid, which may be linked to its energizing and fat burning capacity touted by Dr. Oz, and promoted by Starbucks as part of its “Refresher” line. 


Pomegranate literally means “apple with many seeds.” This ancient fruit has been linked to fertility and beauty. Modern science confirms its use in topical applications due to suppression of lipid oxidation from its high ellagic acid levels (Plast Reconstr Surg. 1994 Dec; 94(7):1027-37) and enhanced effects for sunscreens (Cosmet Dermatol .2001;14(10):43–5). 


All of these superfruits make beautiful label content and can support skin health when used for beauty from within as well as topically.